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TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

How and Why to Build an Analytics-Driven Culture

In the digital era, analytics is the gateway to competitive advantage. These five steps will help you build, instill, and maintain an analytics-driven culture.

With digital transformation rapidly changing business models and reshaping customer expectations, the analytics revolution is now fully upon us. Exciting new data types, including real-time data from IoT sensors, are creating a world of rich and accessible information.

Powerful new analytics platforms are making it possible to deliver insights across the network and beyond in ways never before possible. Increasingly sophisticated and ambitious non-technical users -- the so-called citizen data scientists -- are driving analytics initiatives throughout all facets of the modern business.

It all adds up to a new age of economic advantage, one in which those organizations that most quickly and efficiently gain insight from data -- and translate that insight into impactful business decisions -- will position themselves to outpace and outmode their competition.

It's no surprise, then, that companies across all industries are aggressively jumping into the analytics game with large investments in hot new technologies. Putting analytics to work for your business takes more than just technology, however, and therein lies a big part of the reason why many organizations still struggle to translate that investment and excitement into tangible business impact.

Succeeding with analytics is as much about building an analytics-driven culture as it is about finding and investing in the right technology. The wrong culture will undermine the right technology almost every time.

With that in mind, here are five steps organizations can take to build, instill, and maintain an analytics-driven culture:

Step #1: Lead from the top down

As with just about anything else in business, an analytics-driven culture is instilled from the top down. All the way up to the C-suite, company leaders need to not only be accepting of an analytics-driven culture, they need to champion it. There should be no doubt among either IT teams or line-of-business executives about the company's commitment to analytics-driven decision making.

When leaders make it known that they're fully invested in analytics as a foundational element of the company culture, others will follow suit, and many of the other best practices on this list will fall into place as a result.

Step #2: Develop clear business objectives

It's one thing for everyone to be on the same page about the importance of analytics. It's another thing entirely for everyone to be on the same page about the specific business questions the company seeks to answer with analytics. The two are not the same, and both are necessary to building an analytics-driven culture.

When an analytics initiative fails, it's often because it lacked clearly defined goals. Smart companies apply analytics to solve a specific business problem. Investing in analytics for the purpose of "growing revenue," for example, isn't specific enough. The more specific the questions, the more likely an analytics initiative will uncover the answers. Take the work being done by Dr. John Cromwell at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, for example. Dr. Cromwell and his team are actively leveraging advanced analytics to reduce the occurrence of surgical site infections during colon surgery.

Notice the level specificity involved with the initiative. The problem they're trying to solve and the desired outcome they're trying to achieve are both abundantly clear. It's no coincidence, then, that work has been a hugely successful, with Dr. Cromwell and his team achieving a 70-percent reduction in the occurrence of SSIs for patients of colon surgery during a three-year period ending Dec. 2015.

Step #3: Openly share data and information

To develop an analytics-driven culture, companies must break down information silos and eliminate multiple versions of the truth. This only happens when stakeholders throughout the organization openly share data and information, and that means the long-standing gap between IT and lines-of-business must be bridged.

For IT teams, this means coming to the table with a plan that enables line-of-business teams to get access to the information they need, when they need it. For line-of-business teams, this means collaborating with IT to ensure data security and governance and, just as important, collaborating with each other.

There's no "our" data or "their" data in a company with an analytics-driven culture. There's only data, and it should be shared openly and for the purpose of making unbiased decisions that are best for the company.

Step #4: Empower citizen data scientists

No company can have an analytics-driven culture if it only has a handful of people actually involved in analytics. That's why it's so critical to cultivate and empower citizen data scientists, for these non-technical users embedded in the lines of business will be ultimately responsible for driving innovation through analytics.

One way to make that happen is by investing in analytics technology that doesn't require a Ph.D. to operate. Look for capabilities such as reusable templates that allow traditional data scientists to build analytics models and workflows once and non-technical business analysts to reuse those workflow templates repeatedly within the organization.

Speaking of reuse, there's a burgeoning movement in the analytics community to mimic what's happening in the open source space by sharing analytics models with a broader audience via online marketplaces. Leveraging those marketplaces is another great way to empower citizen data scientists. The concept is simple: technical experts build and develop analytics models; non-technical business users license and deploy them. Leveraging this concept of collective intelligence is a powerful way for organizations to help foster an analytics-driven culture.

Step #5: Commit to data-driven decision making

The only reason to invest the time, energy, and resources needed to build an analytics-driven culture is to make well-informed, data-driven decisions. An organization that takes the previous four steps but still makes decisions that run counter to what the data tells them -- decisions based solely on intuition, gut feelings, or past experience -- is not truly driven by analytics.

The Gateway to Competitive Advantage

Having an analytics-driven culture means leading from the top down with clear business objectives. It means making investments in the right people and the right technology. Most of all, it means allowing the insights gleaned from data to guide everyday decision making. In the digital era, analytics is the gateway to competitive advantage, but only those with the right culture will pass through it.

About the Author

Shawn Rogers is chief research officer at Dell Statistica. Shawn is an internationally recognized thought leader, speaker, author, and instructor on the topics of IoT, big data, analytics, cloud, data integration, data warehousing, and social analytics. Shawn has more than 20 years of hands-on IT experience. Prior to joining Dell he was vice president of research for business intelligence and analytics at Enterprise Management Associates, an analyst firm. He co-founded the BeyeNETWORK, a global publication covering business intelligence, data warehousing, and analytics and was also a partner at DMReview magazine.

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